British Columbia

Metro Vancouver's last transit strike lasted a record-breaking 123 days

In commuters were forced to car pool, hitchhike, cycle or walk as the Coast Mountain Bus Company and the union tried to come up with a new collective agreement.

In 2001, commuters were forced to carpool, hitchhike, cycle or walk as employer and union battled

Coast Mountain Bus Company workers went on strike in 2001. (CBC)

Metro Vancouver's last bus driver strike — the longest transit strike in the province — lasted 123 days before the province passed legislation to get buses rolling again. 

The 2001 stoppage forced commuters, who grew increasingly frustrated as the strike stretched on, to carpool, walk, cycle or even hitch rides to get around the region.

Now Metro Vancouver is facing the possibility of a similar strike, as bus drivers voted Thursday to walk off the job if they and their employer can't hammer out a new contract.

The two union locals involved in the strike vote — Unifor Local 111 and 2200 — have been without a contract since March 31.

Representatives said the new contract needs to address hiring more drivers, improving wages, reducing overcrowding on buses and providing longer breaks for workers.

Unifor represents 5,000 workers at the Coast Mountain Bus Company, including bus drivers, SeaBus workers and maintenance staff in Metro Vancouver.

One of more than 1,000 buses parked during the 2001 bus strike in Metro Vancouver — the longest in the province's history. (CBC)

In 2001, 3,500 workers went on strike on April 1. Workers refused to drive Coast Mountain's fleet of 1,100 buses after the two sides could not agree on a new collective agreement.

Coast Mountain initially offered an eight per cent wage increase over three years to $22.70 per hour, while the union wanted an 18 per cent increase over three years to $23.36 per hour.

The two sides also struggled to find common ground on contracting out and the use of part-time drivers.

'A lot of walking'

SkyTrain service continued throughout the 2001 strike, but the bus stoppage was a hardship for many people, including seniors like Dora Preston. She told the CBC at the time that she was forced to walk dozens of blocks to attend social functions in Vancouver.

Watch protesters explain how the 2001 strike affected them:

Protesters at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2001 explain how a months-long bus strike affected them. 0:21

"That's a lot of walking," she told CBC News in 2001, adding she also paid her neighbours to give her rides.

Harold Stickland was 82 when the strike began. His budget took a hit after shelling out for taxis to get to medical appointments.

"I believe in miracles," he told CBC News at the time. "And there could be a miracle that the strike could be short, but we'll see."

The strike did not end quickly and, as it stretched out, frustration grew. In July 2001, people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery to call for an end to the strike. 

A pile of manure was dumped on the lawn of then TransLink chair George Puil during the Metro Vancouver bus strike in 2001. (CBC)

Many people focused their wrath on George Puil, a Vancouver councillor who was also the chair of TransLink. A load of manure was dumped on the front lawn of his home.

Watch George Puil recount the strike in an interview with CBC News in 2006:

Puil received death threats over the work stoppage and had manure dumped on the lawn of his residence. 0:17

Residents weren't the only people affected by the strike; many businesses around the region reported a loss of revenue.

Finally in early August, with talks stalled, then labour minister Graham Bruce announced legislation forcing workers back on the job.

He imposed a settlement of wage increases of 8.5 per cent for drivers and mechanics over three years, plus a $1,000 signing bonus.

The issue of part-time employees was sent to mediation.

The last significant service disruption had been 17 years earlier, when transit workers were off the job for three months in 1984 before they were legislated back to work, according to a report published in 2008 by TransLink

TransLink's system has dramatically increased in size and use since the last strike, nearly 20 years ago. 

At the time of the 2001 strike, TransLink had about 230 million trips each year. In 2018, there were 436 million trips taken on bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain and the West Coast Express.

This graphic from Translink shows how ridership on bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain and West Coast Express has grown from around 230 million boardings in 2000 to 436 million in 2018. (Translink)

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